Enhancing College Student
Adherence to Physical Fitness
Dr. Jeff Marsee, DHEd.
Who Are Our Students?
Some come to us with a positive attitude toward
Others may have been active off and on through their
Yet others, have adopted a lifestyle that rarely
exercises, engages in on-line activities, and does
not focus on healthy eating patterns.
• Numerous personal, social, and environmental
reasons are reported why the “transitionalists” do
not participate in enough physical activity.
• The transitional period could itself be a barrier
because of the changing roles and responsibilities
of the young person. Most frequently reported
barriers include lack of time, lack of interest, and
lack of energy (Gyurcsik, Bray, & Brittain, 2004).
Unique to the College Student
• Physical activity becomes less of a priority in one’s
life and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are acquired.
This time is critical for the adoption and
maintenance of exercise behaviors that will linger
through the lifetime (Sullum, Clark, and King, 2000).
• Fitness and wellness knowledge does increase with
completion of a required lifetime fitness course by
college students (McCormick and Lockwood, 2006)
• Total weekly activity minutes and habitual leisuretime activities decrease by 31% during this
transitional time (Van Mechelen, Twisk, Post, Snel,
& Kemper, 2000)
• A conceptual physical education course, in which
key concepts are addressed rather that fitness
alone, has been found to reverse the downward
trend of physical activity during this time (Jenkins,
• Adopting healthy lifestyles during the first two years
of college could help prevent weight gain and
potentially some level of obesity later in life (Hallal,
Victoria, Azevedo, & Wells, 2007).
Statement of the Problem
• Only 24% of adults over 18 years of age
participate regularly in moderate physical activity
and 25% are sedentary (Buckworth, Granello, &
• As most students decrease their activity levels
after they leave high school, the risks become
greater as the traditional college students
continue consuming high caloric levels, maintain
high stress levels, function on fewer hours of
sleep, and may participate in other high risk
activities. Most studies have identified barriers
that students perceive limit or prevent them from
participating in physical activity.
Barriers for the college student
• Five types of barriers are thought to exist in a
college community setting (McLeroy, et al 1988).
• Public Policy
• Physical (Gyurcsik, et al., 2004)
PHP100 – Fitness for Life (1 hr)*
15 weeks in length
Taught by numerous PHP faculty and adjuncts.
About 250 students take the course each semester.
Pre and post fitness testing is done but that is likely
to change. The 1.5 mi run is also done in class pre
and post. Optional blood work is also done.
• Three distinct units are found in the course: fitness,
nutrition, and personal health.
1. Participants were expected to develop a personal
philosophy of fitness and wellness.
2. Participants created personal exercise and nutritional
3. Participants developed strategies in which they can
increase adherence and compliance to a personal
4. Participants were to develop an increased awareness
of contemporary health issues, their prevention,
treatment, and effects.
1. Define and understand fundamental concepts of
physical fitness, nutrition, and health.
2. Calculate and implement the results of physical
fitness formulae on their own lifestyle.
3. Evaluate dietary habits and design a personal
4. Show improvement in cardiovascular endurance
through regular aerobic exercise.
5. Explain behavioral change strategies and selfmanagement skills as related to wellness.
6. Philosophically and Biblically justify their position
concerning importance of and need for stewardship of
• To improve student perception of exercise and
• To revisit previously learned material from the
viewpoint of an adult
• To develop a life strategy of maintaining good health
1. What is the student’s present fitness level and current
level of participation in physical activity? This was
done by comparing test results to ordinal data taken
from the survey.
2. Does the declared academic major affect participation
in physical activity? This comparison came from
simple categorical data off the survey instrument.
3. Does the family fitness levels influence current fitness
levels of the students? Two aspects of ordinal data
reported on the survey were compared.
To a lesser extent…
4. What are the differences between the intervention
group and control group on perceived value of
exercise, current levels of exercise, and influencing
factors? This data was taken from the survey
5. Does a curricular change increase student perceived
levels of participation and adherence to an exercise
program after the course is completed? This data
came from a comparison of the pre and post test
One-Group Pretest-Posttest Design with Control was
designed and the Rickel Exercise Value Instrument* was
• Identify students’ purpose for participating in physical
• Identify importance of socialization with participation in
• Identify perceived barriers and benefits to physical
• Identify personal and family impact on physical activity.
• Determine if academic requirements have an impact.
• Identify impact of intrinsic values on physical activity.
*(administered at week 2 and 3 mos. after)
Descriptive Statistics for Sample Background Characteristics
(n = 40)
(n = 52)
(N = 92)
Descriptive Statistics for Step Test as a Function of Group
Note. Table includes only those 77 subjects with both pretest and posttest measurements of the step test.
(n = 32)
Step Test Heart
Step Test Heart
(n = 45)
(N = 77)
Descriptive Statistics for Crunch Test as a Function of Group
Note. Table includes only those 79 subjects with both pretest and posttest measurements of the crunch test.
(n = 33)
(n = 46)
(N = 79)
Correlations between Measures of Aerobic Fitness and Continued Participation
• The first subproblem addressed in this study was:
Determine if present levels of fitness affect continuing
participation in aerobic activity.
• Pretest step tests were not significantly correlated with
continued participation while pretest crunch tests were
positively correlated with continued participation in
• Posttest results did not show a correlation with continued
Activity Level by School Major at Pretest
Note. Table includes only those 82 individuals who completed the pretest.
Activity Level by School Major at Posttest
Note. Table includes only those 50 individuals who completed the posttest.
• The second subproblem was: Determine if the declared
academic major affects reported levels of aerobic
• School majors were compared with the reported activity
level in both the pre or post tests. Whether an individual
regularly exercised or not did not depend upon a
particular academic major. Improvement was made
within each school.
Correlations between Measures of Aerobic Fitness and Family Exercise
• The third subproblem was: Examine reported family
fitness levels and their effect on continuing participation
in aerobic activity.
• Results from specific questions on the survey instrument
were compared to continued participation in physical
activity. No correlation was found between continued
participation in physical activity and family fitness levels
in either the pre or post tests.
• Current level of physical activity does not statistically
influence continued physical activity. As educators, we
should take advantage of this time which students are
forming life-long habits and beliefs.
• Academic major does not negatively influence the
physical activity levels of students. Students from all
majors showed increase in their physical activity levels
after the course.
• Family fitness levels did not influence continuation of
physical activity in college. This can be important as
more students are coming from sedentary backgrounds
and family situations.
Recommendations for further study
• In her study, Rickel (2005) found the increased focus on
written assignments helped to enrich subjective values
and perceptions regarding the value of physical activity.
This revised course added significant journaling as part
of the student assignments and allowed students to
develop personal philosophy statements about wellness.
• Academic awards were not investigated in this study.
DeVahl, King, & Williamson (2005) found that these can
help motivate students to engage in a voluntary exercise
• We have attempted to post fitness test results for
participants so they can see where they fall in the
population and possibly serve as an intrinsic motivator.
• When instructional modifications are suggested,
professors can be either offended or threatened. Those
who have taught the course the same way for many
years will wonder why change is even needed.
• This study has shown moving from a lecture and media
based method of presentation to an interactive and
discussion type class, students appear to come more
prepared and willing to share during the class.
• Assessment changes can lead to more time for class
interaction and promote student-centered learning.
• Small group work was well-received and supported
results in the literature.
• Chronic illness assignment had a noticeable impact on
students even though it was not investigated.
• Self-reporting nature of the data including self and
familial fitness levels
• Small sample size but similar studies could be replicated
on other campuses
• Instructional and motivational techniques
• Fitness routine variations between faculty (cardio only,
cardio with strength, cardio with strength and flexibility)
Recommendations for Courses
1. Course modifications can be easily done causing
increased adherence to a personal exercise program.
Curriculum mapping may help focus the content with
numerous faculty or those less willing to change.
2. Changes in assessment methodology can help to
increase student ownership of the topic.
3. Including strength and flexibility training in the 10-week
exercise program will cause improvements in overall
fitness levels rather than aerobic alone.
4. More focus on collaborative work and personal reflection
creates better discussion and class activities. Increased
writing in the course leads to increased student
5. Introduction of the chronic illness project increases
student awareness of the benefits for good nutrition and
adequate physical activity.
6. Longitudinal studies should be used to determine
change over the four years
Summative Assessment Techniques
Students will demonstrate knowledge and understanding
through completion of the following forms of summative
1. Personal Philosophy of Fitness and Wellness papers
2. Weekly reports during the 10-week exercise program
3. On-line chapter quizzes (cognitive).
4. Nutritional assessment (cognitive).
Formative Assessment Techniques
Formative feedback would occur with the following forms of
1. Collaborative unit projects (cognitive and affective).
2. Extensive personal journal (affective).
3. Chronic illness project (affective).
Buckworth, J., Granello, D. H., & Belmore, J. (2002). Incorporating personality
assessment into counseling to help college students adopt and maintain
exercise behaviors, Journal of College Counseling, 5(1), 15-25.
Devahl, J., King,R., & Williamson, J. W. (2005). Academic incentives for
students can increase participation in and effectiveness of a physical activity
program. Journal of American College Health 53(6), 295-298.
Gyurcsik, N. C., Spink, K. S., Bray, S. R., Chad, K., & Kwan, M. (2006). An
ecologically based examination of barriers to physical activity in students
from grade seven through first-year university. Journal of Adolescent
Health, 38(6), 704-711.
Hallal, P. C., Victoria, C. G., Azevedo, M. R., & Wells, C. K. (2006) Adolescent
Physical Activity and Health. Sports Medicine, 36(12), 1019-1030.
Jenkins, J. M. , Jenkins, P., Collums, A, & Werhonig, G. (2006) Student
perceptions of a conceptual physical education activities course. Physical
Educator, 63(4), 210-221.
McCormick, J., & Lockwood, P. (2006). College student's perceptions of
wellness concepts. Physical Educator, 63(2), 78-103.
McLeroy, K. R., Bibeau, D., Steckler, A., & Glanz, K. (1988). An ecological
perspective on health promotion programs. Health Education Quarterly,
Rickel, K.F. (2005). Exercise adherence, a philosophical shift promoting a life
narrative based curriculum and technology to augment commitment to
exercise. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Idaho, Moscow.
Sullum, J., Clark, M. M., & King, T. K. (2000). Predictors of exercise relapse in
a college population. Journal of American College Health, 48(4), 175-180.
VanMechelen, W., Twisk, T. W. R., Post, G. B., Snel, J., & Kemper, H. C. G.
(1998). Physical activity of young people: the Amsterdam longitudinal
growth and health study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32,
Jeff Marsee, DHEd, ATC
Department of PHP
Upland, IN 46989